Choosing and buying seeds for the year ahead is an exciting task for a gardener and during the dark days of winter when being stuck indoors is the only option, flicking through seed catalogues is a welcome reminder that spring will return. There are many seed suppliers to choose from, many of which are specialists in their field. Here we’ve put together a list of our favourites, divided into flowers, vegetables and wild flowers to give you a head start on your gardening year.
The Chiltern Seeds catalogue is always tempting with a selection of inspiring images. Cultivar choice is excellent and descriptions always helpful.
An extensive range of flower and vegetable seeds, including potato, onion and garlic sets. Plantsman Graham Rice writes a regular blog for the website, which provides useful discussion on some aspect of Mr Fothergill’s offerings.
If you’ve visited this iconic garden, you’ll have been delighted by its sheer exuberance, colour and range of plants through the season. The nursery offers flower seeds from its own stock chosen by the staff and students as notable. Seed is then harvested fresh by hand and supplied in glassine bags.
Grower and owner Benjamin Ranyard trials a selection of flowers at this field in Cornwall. He then sells a range of seed specifically for the cutting patch – sometimes working with florists to ensure the best range. The Higgledy website also has plenty of growing tips and a monthly planting guide.
Plant World Seeds
Extensive range of seeds for flowers and vegetables but also trees and shrubs and grasses – many of them rare and unusual. It ships around the world.
Plants of Distinction
A small, family-run business based in Suffolk that has built up a good range of both flower and vegetables that rivals some of the larger, more commercial seed companies.
Sarah is renowned for her carefully curated collections of traditional flowers for her cutting garden. Her seed selection is relatively small but you can be assured that those she has included are good ones.
Plantswoman Derry Watkins runs a fantastic nursery in a hidden valley near Bath. Her plant selection is impeccable and you’ll always find something of interest there. Added to which, she sells a range of flower seed too. Of particular note is her fresh seed.
Thompson & Morgan
Established in 1855, Thompson & Morgan has a wide range of seed for flowers and vegetables, regularly winning awards for its offerings. You’ll find plenty of choice on cultivars and good descriptions.
Another of the big all-rounders with a wide range of seed – many offered as part of special deals – so worth keeping an eye out for seasonal promotions. Unwins is best known for its range of sweet peas, and has an ongoing breeding programme and extensive sweet pea trials each year.
Heritage Seed Library
Run by Garden Organic, the Heritage Seed Library is a members-only resource that offers a selection of rare, hard-to-get-hold-of, heritage vegetable seed – many of which have been lost to standard seed catalogues.
Jekka’s Herb Farm
The award-winning grower, expert and herb-garden designer, Jekka McVicar’s knowledge of growing herbs is second to none. This is perhaps the best range of culinary herb seed anywhere, including salad herb seeds plus herb collections in beautifully illustrated packets, perfect as inspiring gifts.
Much of Kings Seeds stock comes from its own 300-acre farm. Good selection of vegetables and flower cultivars, including an organic range of vegetable seed. It also stocks the range from Suffolk Herbs.
A good all-rounder, with plenty of choice covering a range of different vegetables. The duo packs, with two complementary cultivars, are a great way to discover more of the variety available within one vegetable type and benefit from an extended harvesting season or variations in flavour.
This fully independent seed merchant has a good range of seeds including organic vegetables – in fact the majority of its flower seed are untreated too. Although wholesale, it will supply anyone from large companies to individual enthusiasts (minimum order value £7.50) with the advantage here that seeds are available in a range of larger quantities – so perfect if you are part of an allotment club or gardening group.
Pennard offers over 600 varieties of heirloom and heritage vegetables – again with a focus on flavour. You may have seen its award-winning displays at garden events such as the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which often show an exuberant allotment-style garden, growing everything from traditional or forgotten favourites to more unusual newcomers.
Founded by a pair of grow-your-own obsessives who started supplying seed as a result of their own extensive trials of growing vegetables for above all flavour. All seeds are non-hybrid (open pollinated) and you are encouraged to save your own seed from one year to the next.
Sea Spring Seeds
A vegetable seed company based in Dorset. According to no-dig expert Charles Dowding it stocks ‘only seeds that grow into decent flavours and have useful growth characteristics, such as yield and earliness of harvest.’ It also has a particularly good range of interesting chillies.
Seeds of Italy
You’ll be hard pressed not to be drawn in to the colour and flavour on offer in a whole range of tasty Italian cultivars. The details of provenance too remind you that local specialities remain important and can define regional cooking. Seeds of Italy is the sole UK supplier of Franchi Seeds – one of the world’s oldest seed suppliers established in 1783 – and now has a shop in north London where you can buy seeds and other Italian gourmet goods. There’s a range of organic, chemical-free seed available, too.
Nice, clear website that makes it easy to find what you want from Suttons’ all-round range of seeds. It also works with ethnobotanist James Wong to offer a range of vegetables and edible flower seeds that James has chosen for their focus on flavour and high nutritional value.
The company started as a small organic garden in 1994 and now offers a good range of products for the organic gardener, including vegetable seeds, herbs, onion sets and seed potatoes.
Known for his impeccable etiquette, you’ll be charmed to receive Thomas Etty Esq’s regular missives, respectfully suggesting seeds to buy and sow. You’ll find an interesting range of heritage cultivars among his choice. There is, however, a minumum order value of £12.50. thomasetty.co.uk
Run by committed botanists and ecologists to promote the importance not just of growing more wildflowers but of working with nature. Its wildflower and grass mixes are grouped by habitat, such as meadow, and then by soil type so you get the right mix of species for your area. Excellent whether you’re creating a large meadow area or simply want to increase the biodiversity in your garden.
Seed mixes for annual and perennial meadow-style planting. These were originally developed by Nigel Dunnett from his work at the University of Sheffield and are aimed to provide impact of colour and lots of nectar-rich flower
If you are looking for recommended, locally suited, unusual cultivars of flowers and vegetables, try researching community seed swapping events. These are a great opportunity to meet other growers, hear first-hand of growing experiences and discover new favourites.
Millennium seed bank
And finally, a word for the wonder of seeds and the biodiversity they represent. The Millennium Seed Bank, at Wakehurst Place in Sussex, is Kew’s project to conserve 25 per cent of the world’s seeds by 2020 to ensure against future extinction. See the website to find out more and discover the amazing science behind seeds.
Words Sorrel Everton